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Critics' Choice Awards

Best surf icon

Jack O'Neill

No one can deny that Jack O'Neill, the creator of the wet suit, has made the greatest impact on surfing. This eye-patched pirate started out with the purpose of finding a way to stay warm while bodysurfing off San Francisco's Ocean Beach. Working to develop his "wet suit" and raise a family, Jack opened the very first surf shop, coining the term "surf shop" in the process. His move to Santa Cruz in the 1950s meant that we became a global center of surf culture as the world discovered that wearing a wet suit meant that it was, indeed, "always summer on the inside." Jack's success has fueled his ability to protect and serve the ocean he has always loved.

Dan Young


Best place to see the sunrise over the ocean without driving cross-country

Prospect Street in Capitola

Sunsets have been the staple of travel brochures for decades now--all those garish colors fading into darkness, signaling the end of the day. Frankly, it is time to re-evaluate this nostalgia for the day's death and just go bravely into the night and the sunrise (our imminent sunset years aside). A sunrise is subtler. The light seems to be absorbed by its own portentous potency, delaying the day for just a moment longer. And after a long night of sleeping or not sleeping, the best place to see it is Prospect Street in Capitola. Seven deserted, dew-covered benches line cliffs facing due east and overlooking the ocean. Bring a compass to make sure you are still on the West Coast and an old Tom Waits tape: "The only time I saw the sunrise was when I stayed up all night."

Bruce Willey


Best coastal drive besides Big Sur

Highway 1 North

Gotta be our North County, Highway 1 from Western Drive to the San Mateo County line. We don't need to go into details as to why it's still so beautiful (except for the goat stench by Back Ranch Road). If you can take your eyes off the ocean, do note the stunning canyons on the inland side, and take in the fields of Brussels sprouts and artichokes. Someplace along here is the spot where Frans Lanting took photos of redwoods and palm trees growing side by side, which isn't easy.

Bruce Bratton


Best surf character

Kenny Mechanic

Santa Cruz surely has its share of surf characters--you can't step off a plane in any country without running into one of the "bros" screaming down a peeling zipper in Bali or wintering in a shanty at the tip of Baja. But the rarest and most mysterious has to be Kenny Mechanic. Kenny travels California's coast in his vintage surf assault vehicle, fixing wave riders' broken-down surf cars from San Onofre in the south to San Francisco in the north. Known as the "Mechanic to the Surf Stars," Kenny has a tendency to pop up out of the blue, catching the perfect swell before tooling off into the sunset.

Dan Young


Best local wonder-twin power

Alayna Nathe-Schiebel and Tristan Nathe

So the sisters aren't actually twins--they are two years apart. And they can't transform into new forms and shapes the way the Saturday-morning siblings from the Superfriends could when battling to save the world from cartoon villains. But sisters Alayna Schiebel, one of the women of Paradise Surf Shop, and Tristan Nathe, co-owner of Pacific Avenue's Saturn Cafe, are blazing trails for local young women in business. Besides supplying shoppers with everything from female-friendly sporting goods to healthy doses of natural foods and gooey chocolate goodness, they prove that women can have both strong minds and strong bodies--and thrive in the local business scene.

Mary Spicuzza


Best place to take a nap for longevity

Holy Cross Cemetery

As the days get longer and the nights get shorter, the need to nap grows greater. The solution: eat lunch at the Seventh Avenue liquor store (they have lovely, oversized sandwiches) and drive down Capitola Road Extension to Holy Cross Cemetery. You'll need a nap while the blood from your soul seeps to your stomach. Under the oak and cypress trees in the northeastern part of the graveyard is the grave of Justiniano Rohas, who lived to be 123 years old. Lie near his grave and be perfectly still. The important thing to remember is that this is a nap, not a sleep, lest it turn into a Dostoyevsky's Bobok nightmare. Or as one patron of the graveyard nap once told, "Sometimes it is easy to confuse your own snoring with the voices below."

Bruce Willey


Best sign that you're almost home

Wally the Whale

Anyone who careens over Highway 17 knows that plenty of distinctive road markers make getting lost along the long and winding road nearly impossible. Drivers can identify exits based on twisted guard rails, center divider scars and blinking "Wreck Ahead" signs. But the most comforting assurance for Santa Cruzans that home is near is Wally the Whale, Ocean Chevrolet-Geo-Honda's beloved mascot. Located on the northern edge of Scotts Valley, this handsome, large-headed marine mammal--created by the same cartoonist who brought Charlie the Tuna into the world--waves to his adoring fans from his beloved billboard. Wally's greeting changes periodically--sometimes it's a reminder to drive safely; these days, it an image of a web-savvy Wally--but along a highway roiling with road rage, Wally always stands as a beacon of sanity.

Mary Spicuzza


Best surf club

Santa Cruz Body Surfing Association

For sheer fun, the Santa Cruz Body Surfing Association is the friendliest group on the beach. Its annual California Body Surfing Championships attract international competitors, drawn by the club's reputation for hospitality. No matter if the waves are knee-high or way overhead, the SCBSA holds heats, adapting to the conditions. Where else would you find tandem heats or the "pure division" (no wet suits) in the dead of winter. Add the fact that they are all great cooks, and you have a recipe for a great time.

Dan Young


Best tree for a gringo to hug

Miracle Oak at Pinto Lake

The Ohlone Indians considered the oak tree sacred. And when the apparition of the Virgin de Guadalupe appeared in an oak tree at Pinto Lake back in 1992, the sight brought believers from all over the world to witness the Lady in the oak, perhaps the same tree where local Indians picked acorns. Whether you believe in this miraculous event or not doesn't matter; it is a most beautiful tree, and wrapped around her trunk is a cultural history of those who are convinced that this tree has power. A picture of a maimed leg with the words in Spanish: "Please heal my broken leg." Next to this picture is another picture of a leg: "Thank you for my new leg." To me, the pictures look the same, but I'm no doctor or faith healer. I've just seen things here that put the Mystery Spot to shame. Without getting weird about it, faith, combined with a firmly rooted tree, can be a powerful thing to witness.

Bruce Willey


Best Banana Slug alumna

Marti Noxon

Every university has its success stories involving millionaires and crusading do-gooders. But few colleges can say that one of their very own went on to build one of the best heroines to grace the little or big screen. Oakes College graduate Marti Noxon, now supervising producer for TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, proves that some revolutions can be televised. The powerful pens of the Buffy crew have forever changed the prime-time world with witty dialogue, martial arts-inspired fight scenes, and teen characters that defy stereotypes. Despite the vampires and soul-sucking demons, Buffy is by far the most realistic portrayal of teen life on the tube.

Mary Spicuzza

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From the March 22-29, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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